Cannes on the French Riviera is a delightful city to visit any time of the year. It is known for its glamour, particularly in May when the annual Cannes Film Festival attracts the greatest film stars in the world. A big seaside resort on the Mediterranean shore, Cannes has top hotels and also lots of good, sandy, and free public beaches. And Cannes is a perfect jumping-off point for other towns along this glitzy part of the Côte d'Azur, as well as day trips to two of the beautiful Iles de Lérins islands. Visitors will find interesting museums, a colorful covered market full of fresh local produce, nice parks with hiking trails, and some upscale shopping areas not to be missed.
Few spots better symbolize the glamour of Cannes than La Croisette, the stretch of sidewalk that runs for roughly 1.25 miles (2 kilometers) along the shoreline. La Croisette looks out to the Mediterranean on one side and is lined with historic hotels, casinos, restaurants, gardens, and more.
There are vendors selling souvenirs and upscale shops across the street. Best of all, there are wonderful cafés along the beach and, for a fee, you can rent a lounge chair and umbrella on one of the private beaches belonging to the hotels and sip a refreshing drink a few feet from the water.
During the famous Cannes Film Festival, the stars stretch out on the private beaches, surrounded by the paparazzi. Before going, confirm the promenade's renovation is not going to affect your visit.
Every May, the stars, wannabes, and film groupies descend on the Palais des Festivals for the annual Cannes Film Festival, which turns the resort into a frenzy of activity for several days. Everybody tries to get a glimpse of the action; even if you aren't in the industry, there are ways you can participate. Arrive early each night of the festival to grab a beach chair and watch a different film on a large outdoor screen at Cinéma de la Plage on Cannes Beach.
Check out the guide to the Cannes Film Festival for more information on what (and who) to see where.
Go Shopping in Cannes
One of the major reasons to visit Cannes is to spend money. Besides the shops on La Croisette, there are numerous streets heading north from there and paralleling La Croisette. There's the shopping mall Cannes la Bocca and several upscale chain stores such as Gucci for clothes, plus local boutiques.
Rue d'Antibes in the city center is good for high-end shopping and people watching, and Rue Meynadier offers specialty food shops like bakeries and cheese stores along with places to find souvenirs and clothing, all on a pedestrian-friendly street.
Visit Palais des Festivals et des Congrès
The Palais des Festivals et des Congrès, or convention center, is a modern building at the east end of La Croisette. But it's the venue for all the big events in Cannes, including, naturally, the Cannes Film Festival. Even when the film industry has long since rolled up the red carpet, you can get a taste of the glitz by looking at the handprints of celebrities embedded in the flagstones outside the building.
The convention center hosts many events throughout the year, from concerts with young European musicians and Chopin piano series to circus events. Also, France's second-biggest competitive run, the Marathon des Alpes-Maritimes Nice-Cannes, starts on the Promenade des Anglais and finishes on La Croisette close to the Palais des Festivals each November.
The Musée de la Castre is a museum housed in the remains of an 11th-century castle built by monks of Lérins, in the historic district Le Suquet, the old town. The museum displays musical instruments from around the world, and visitors enjoy the objects and art from the Himalayas, Oceania, and the Arctic, as well as Mediterranean antiques and pre-Columbian ceramics.
Go up the tower for a great view over Cannes itself and out to the Isles de Lérins on the horizon.
Visitors are easily lured to the Iles de Lérins islands off the coast of Cannes, which offer peace and quiet along with rocky inlets to enjoy. The two biggest islands—the inhabited ones—are only about a 15-minute ferry ride, but they are a world away from the fancy resort.
Ile-Ste-Marguerite, the larger of the two, is dominated by its Fort. Walk through the cells and imagine the fate of the "Man in the Iron Mask," who was incarcerated here for 11 years in the late 1600s, according to the novelist Alexandre Dumas. The island also features tidal pools, secluded beaches, and nice walking trails and bird-watching spots.
Ile St-Honorat is quieter, and is the site of the Abbaye de Lérins, where over 20 Cistercian monks run acres of vineyards. There are some well-liked restaurants like the abbey's high-end La Tonnelle with Mediterranean vistas, and the island has accommodation for overnight stays.
Explore Musée de la Mer
This unique Musée de la Mer (Museum of the Sea) is on the Ile Ste-Marguerite and well worth a visit in its own right. Exhibits are devoted to various things from photography collections of Cannes to the prison system and underwater archaeology collections. A highlight is an exhibit devoted to the mysterious "Man in the Iron Mask."
Marché Forville, one of France's great daily covered markets in the Le Suquet district of Cannes, is the place to be for seasonal, local fresh fruits and vegetables and a glimpse of how the locals live. You'll also find flowers, seafood, meats, spices, and specialties like olives. The market is open every morning of the week except for Mondays when the venue turns into a flea market (Marche Brocante).
La Croix-des-Gardes Nature Park and Forest is a 200-acre public space abundant with trails and is located in the center of Cannes—a great place to enjoy a hike and a picnic with your loved ones. The park features a huge cross at its peak, and visitors can catch panoramic views of the city as well as nearby bays and islands. The park's arboretum has more than 40 types of mimosa trees.
Lounge and Swim at a Public Beach
Cannes' sandy public beaches offer locals and tourists a place to relax and enjoy recreational activities.
Palm Beach (also known as Point Croisette), located to the east of Cannes, is a quiet place with shallow waves that attract families, kiteboarders, windsurfers, and kayakers for a day of play. The beach has a beautiful view of the Ile-Ste-Marguerite.
Plage du Midi is Cannes' largest stretch of public beach, located on the city's west side not far from Le Suquet. This well-liked spot is good for lounging, swimming, grabbing an ice cream, or having a meal at a nearby restaurant.
Another nice public beach is Plage de la Bocca, a more relaxing place to soak up the sun than the La Croisette area to the east; families with children set up here to build sandcastles and swim.
Delve Into French Cooking
France's cuisine, full of fresh-baked bread and pastries as well as delicious cheeses and wines, is said to be some of the best and most flavorful in the world. UNESCO even added French gastronomy to its list of the world's "intangible cultural heritage."
A fun way to learn about French fare firsthand is through La Serviette Blanche's cooking classes focused on the Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur area, which has more Mediterranean-influenced cuisine than the rest of the country. You'll shop at the local market with the chef and learn to cook a three-course menu. Walking food tours are also available: A bilingual guide will lead you through 2.5 hours of stops at about 7-9 places for tastes of homemade tapenades, fresh olives, fruits, pastries, and more.
Whether you are looking to buy a luxury yacht or just have fun glancing at numerous boats, visitors and locals enjoy the Cannes Yachting Festival, which has exhibited a diverse crop of more than 600 sailboats—including about 100 new models—to an international crowd of tourists since 1977. The event takes place every September for nearly a week at Cannes' two ports: the Vieux Port and the Port Pierre Canto.